Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Poison Poultry Problems

Sometimes I find a story like this one online which sends a pang of envy through my heart: why couldn’t that have happened to me? As a small-town reporter I’m stuck trying to make interesting stories out of town-council budget discussions and Lions’ Club fundraisers, and meanwhile in Texas an obscure little fair called the Quadrangle Festival is ruined when dead pigeons fall from the sky:

TEXARKANA -- The city's annual festival was marred by dead pigeons nose-diving into pavement and others dying on downtown sidewalks after they ate poisoned corn from the roof of a nearby bank branch.

Authorities said they cleaned up more than 25 sick or dead birds following miscalculated pest control efforts at a CapitalOne Bank branch.
"The death of these pigeons was more than an unfortunate accident," city president for CapitalOne Bank Lacy McMillen said in today's online edition of Texarkana Gazette. "It was not the intention of the bank to harm any of these birds."

McMillen said the bank hired an exterminator to handle its pigeon problem after a bird entered the bank and defecated on a customer.

I don’t blame the bank, but a plague of kamikaze pigeons can’t be good for a fair’s bottom line. Those festival participants down in Texarkana must be furious, what with their event being ruined by dying pigeons dive-bombing their customers.

Or maybe they’re just worried about the pigeons:
Vera Martin, working at a handbag booth at the city's weekend Quadrangle Festival, said the poisoning sends a bad message to children. "I think it's cruelty to animals," she said. "What other animals could be killed in the process of doing this?"

This version of the story’s just an AP rewrite. The small-town newspaper which originally broke the story of this event shows how the AP shortened Vera Martin’s quote:
“I think its cruelty to animals,” said Martin.

“What is this telling our kids? If we killed them (animals), we would get a ticket or a fine. We raise our kids to protect these animals and they come and poison them,” said Martin. “What other animals could they kill in the process of doing this?”

Rats, perhaps. Or is Vera Martin worried about housepets which might consume the poison pigeons? If that’s her point, she sure as hell took the scenic route to get there. Incidentally, where do you draw the line between animals and vermin, in regards to which ones you can acceptably kill and which ones you can’t? Rats, roaches and insects in general fall into the “okay to kill” category. Pigeons?
Lori Anderson, a member of the Texarkana Humane Society, said though pigeons are sometimes considered “nuisance birds” anyone who wants to kill them should have a permit to do it.

Oh no. Baaaad precedent, especially if rats evolve cuteness like their cousins the rabbits and squirrels. (Cuteness is the only reason a certain children’s book is titled Peter Rabbit rather than The Thieving Rodent Whose Father Became Hasenpfeffer After He Stole The Hard-Working Farmer’s Carrots.) The only plausible rationale for pigeon permits shouldn’t come from the Humane Society, but those who might say Capital One had no right to turn their private pigeon problem into a public nuisance.

And yet, what if a homeowner plagued by flying cockroaches lays out poison, but not enough to kill them immediately? And thousands of palmetto bugs swarm out onto the street to die. If you have the right to kill a nuisance animal with poison, should you be held responsible if the animal proceeds to die without showing respect for property boundaries?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting question without an easy answer. A couple of years ago, my property was plagued with gophers in an earthen jetty which protected my house from high water when a mountain river was in flood stage. High water is a frequent occurrence in the Smoky Mountains. Holes in the jetty mean that high water can quickly and easily take out the jetty.
The appropriate authorities informed me that I could shoot the gophers but not poison them, as other more cuddly animals might eat the poison. Think rabbits and squirrels. While shooting is effective for individual animals, it is pretty much useless for removing a population of 10-20 animals. Maybe if I had quit my job and hunter gophers 24/7...
When hurricaines Frances and Ivan came through the Smokies a couple of years ago, the jetty did not hold and high water irreparibly damaged my house.
We're mostly working class whites up here, and so the media took only minimal note of the disaster. The US Congress did not rush to pass huge packages of money for our local politicians to loot as the Congress did for New Orleans. Federal assistence has not been wholly absent, but we have not received the lavish monies New Orleans has received.
To return to your question, I don't know the answer. But if I could do this again, would I poison those gophers on a wholesale scale and damn the rabbits, the squirrels, and the law?
You damn betcha!

4:07 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Oh, Anonymous, that is horrible. I'm so sorry. But you learned a valuable lesson about pest control: asking for after-the fact forgiveness is less likely to destroy your house than before-the-fact permission.

The guy who said you can't poison the gophers should have been required to trade properties with you, and see how he likes having his home threatened. Just because an animal is cute enough to star in a Disney movie doesn't mean he can't cause serious damage. And squirrels can be as bad as mice or rats if they get into your house--chewing through electrical wires and the like. Yes, squirrels are cute, but damned if I'd let my house burn down to save the cute little dears.

If you're rural enough, maybe you could have tried getting lots of cats to hunt the gophers. But then what do you do with the cats when the gophers are gone? I don't condone drowning housepets just because they no longer serve a purpose. You were in a nasty pickle. I hope you've since recovered?

6:56 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

There was a Don Martin cartoon in MAD Magazine in, oh, say the 60s.

Guy throwing popcorn to pigeons. Many pigeons eating it.

People stop by, try the popcorn, soon there are dozens of people also eating it.

``Hey, this popcorn is delicious! What do you put in it?''

``Arsenic. I hate pigeons.''

11:38 AM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

This blog entry cries out for a soundtrack; specifically Tom Lehrer's Poisoning Pigeons In The Park.

You may cut and paste the following address, but I have also linked the site to my name. Enjoy.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous smartassed sob said...

I suppose this probably comes too late for anonymous, but for anyone else that might be troubled by gophers, moles and the like, what you want is a brace of dachshunds. They were originally bred for going after badgers, but they'll root out most any burrowing animal. You don't have to train them either - it's an inborn trait.

As for the pigeons...just offhand, I believe I'd rather be crapped on by a live pigeon than hit by a dead or dying one.
The question I'm wondering about is when it's okay to poison the TWO-legged varmits - I've been crapped on by some of them, too.

5:44 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Pigeons are two-legged, y'know.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous smacky said...

This is a semi-related story, but anyway heregoes: I was at the zoo a few weeks ago with some friends, and this little boy who saw me tossing a McDonald's french fry to a seagull or sparrow once or twice totally freaked out on me in front of his father and his brother. I had tossed a fry on the ground for some sparrows to peck at, and he jumped out of his seat and stormed over to the fry (which was a few feet equidistant between our tables), and huffily picked it up. I don't know if he was in a panic that he thought I was poisoning the birds with heart-clogging grease unfit for cute aminals (but strangely fit for lower-income humans to eat), or if he thought I was littering. Either way, he was wrong (since french fries are supposed to be biodegradable and are therefore not really "litter"...although if Morgan Spurlock had anything to say about it, he might disagree). And I wanted to give his smug, approving father the what-for (he just sat there in his self-righteous parentage with his shades on, as though anything his lil' tyke did in the name of "ecology" was unquestionably acceptable). Bah!

(If I hadn't fed those sparrows and seagulls, they would have just picked it all out of the trash themselves, anyway).

[/end rant]

10:33 AM  
Anonymous smartassed sob said...

Jennifer said,

"Pigeons are two-legged, y'know."

True. I should have said *wingless*, two-legged varmits.

3:09 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

I grew up near Texarkana and most of the people I remember from childhood from that neck of the (very deep and dark) woods would've reacted to falling dead pigeons with "Cool!!" Either that or they would have volunteered to shoot all the bank's problems away.

7:17 PM  

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